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Joining a number of other Bay Area cities preparing to help local businesses better succeed when restrictions related to COVID-19 are loosened, Walnut Creek is moving ahead on a plan to close certain streets to benefit restaurants and retailers.
It is part of the “Walnut Creek Rebound” program, which will be enacted over the next few weeks to not only create additional space for outdoor dining and outdoor display for retail merchants, but also for making more space for curbside pickup for both restaurants and retail businesses.
In addition, the program will allow more flexibility for temporary signs; beef up marketing efforts to let people know Walnut Creek businesses are open (albeit with current coronavirus-related restrictions); speed up the city permit processes for walk-up windows, temporary kiosks and expanded outdoor offerings; and — in the downtown — bring more public art, live music and other performances to open spaces.
Mayor Loella Haskew and Councilmember Cindy Silva will lead a subcommittee tasked with enacting these, and possibly other, ideas to bring shoppers and diners back to what Assistant City Manager Teri Killgore called a “beloved shopping and retail destination” that draws from the entire region.
These actions would go into effect over the next several weeks as Contra Costa County health officials loosen restrictions on businesses. As of May 26, retail stores in Contra Costa County can offer curbside sales or other outdoor pickups, but neither outside dining nor outdoor display of retail items is allowed.
The city’s planned actions come as Walnut Creek faces significant economic hits because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The closure of most businesses has decimated sales tax revenues, and the City Council recently approved $6.5 million in spending cuts and is using $3.6 million in reserve funds to close a projected $10 million budget gap for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Killgore said that revenue for Walnut Creek restaurants is down 80 percent since March.
Whatever measures are eventually adopted will remain in place until the COVID-19 emergency is canceled, or until “they prove to be problematic,” according to a city staff report. Killgore acknowledged there may be some trial and error involved.
City leaders hope that owners of private shopping centers in Walnut Creek will also enact these measures where possible and practical, and that the city will help with such efforts. But city officials said they can’t force the private property owners to do these things.
Walnut Creek staffers consulted with a wide variety of local businesses as well as with other cities on how to best close streets and encourage other strategies that work in this time of coronavirus-spurred limitations.
Berkeley and San Francisco are discussing using vacant outside space around restaurants to expand their capacities, as are the cities of Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Livermore, Los Altos, Redwood City, San Carlos and San Mateo. Earlier this month, the Martinez City Council directed city staff to pursue closing Main Street downtown to allow merchants with small spaces to expand operations outside.
Killgore said all the measures envisioned will be temporary, but that details still need to be worked out.
Representatives of several business and arts groups said they are all for the basic ideas outlined and pledged support, including financial.
Councilman Matt Francois said these temporary steps are only the beginning.